- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

UNSUNG HEROES

“Today, we laid an American hero to rest.”

One of just several tributes paid Wednesday to retired Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Charles W. “Chuck” Dryden, this one by author and playwright Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of former Defense Secretary William Cohen, following the Arlington National Cemetery interment of the legendary World War II and Korean War pilot.

“I loved … how he had wanted to fly airplanes since he was a young boy,” former President Bill Clinton recalled in a letter to the Dryden family. Similar condolences were sent by President Bush, who had conferred the Congressional Gold Medal on Lt. Col. Dryden and other surviving Tuskegee Airmen in March 2007.

Extremely proud to be among the few black pilots flying for the U.S. Army Air Corps in his P-40 nicknamed “A-Train,” then-Lt. Dryden on June 9, 1943, found himself leading a black-only squadron of six pilots that encountered enemy aircraft over Sicily. As his obituary states, it was the first time in aviation history that black American pilots engaged aircraft in combat.

Nevertheless, as Lt. Col. Dryden once told Mrs. Cohen, even after he had fought two wars in his U.S. military uniform, “he would come home to fight again - that ugly American racism,” as she put it during a funeral reception at the Fort Myer Officers’ Club.

In his book “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman,” Lt. Col. Dryden talks of the racial divides and hatred that he encountered at home and abroad during his 21-year military career, solely because of his skin color. He wasn’t alone, by any means.

Mr. Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine, told this columnist Wednesday that his wife’s father, Sewell Bridges, dared not be caught wearing his World War II uniform in public when he came home from duty. Mr. Cohen, in his remarks Wednesday, turned to the epilogue of the pilot’s book to read the words of British statesman Edmund Burke: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

“How lovely would my country be if its actions did not belie its brave words that ‘all men are created equal’ and that in this ‘land of the free’ there are ‘liberty and justice for all,’” wrote Lt. Col. Dryden.

“I have fought in two wars for my America because I have loved its lovely principles,” he said. “Happily, its principles have thrilled me and filled me with emotion each time I stood stiffly at attention and saluted the flag during morning reveilles and evening retreats on military posts around the world.”

German prisoners of war, he recalled, received better treatment than his fellow black American soldiers returning home from war. Still, he had told Mrs. Cohen before his death, he would not hesitate fighting for his country all over again.

The retired Air Force officer died June 24 at age 87. His son, Eric Dryden, announced Wednesday the incorporation of the A-Train Legacy Foundation, to keep his father’s legacy alive by developing humanity through aviation.

NEVER RETIRED

It wasn’t too long ago that Inside the Beltway paid tribute to John E. Taylor, the longtime - 63 years, all told - archivist at the National Archives who was appreciated by historians and newspaper columnists alike for his encyclopedic knowledge of World War II.

We headlined the interview “Not this week,” because whenever he was asked when he might retire, Mr. Taylor replied: “Not this week.”

He never will, it turns out. On the job as usual last week, Mr. Taylor died Saturday at age 87.

“I came to the National Archives in September 1945,” Mr. Taylor told this columnist. “I never expected to work so long. But I tell you, this is a fascinating job. Every day I speak to writers, authors, TV people, and sometimes ordinary high school students will come in.”

Months before our interview, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein stood at a podium to salute Mr. Taylor on the occasion of his 60th anniversary with National Archives. Mr. Weinstein noted that Mr. Taylor probably didn’t remember him, but he had been a young researcher when he first met the archivist so many years ago.

At which point Mr. Taylor, then 85, slowly stood up and announced that not only did he remember Mr. Weinstein, he could still see the pretty redheaded researcher working alongside him.

“The archivist was floored,” Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman told us. “What John remembers, his attention to detail, is amazing: so many topics, people’s names, even the names of their pets.”

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected] times.com.

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